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June 8, 2010


French feminist encourages us all to be bad moms

Elisabeth Badinter

Feminist cultural theorists tend to be a radical, provocative bunch--they have to be. But it's the French feminists that have a special place in my heart. Maybe it's their legacy of existentialism, sexual freedom, and Joan of Arc, but the French feminists have always been way more incendiary and out there than their American counterparts. While Betty Freidan was hypothesizing that maybe women want to do something with their lives other than vacuuming, Monique Wittig was claiming that she didn't have a vagina because the naming of body parts imposed an artificial order and a masculine bias on the natural body.

Anyway, a contemporary feminist writer, Elisabeth Badinter, has gotten a lot of attention for her new book, "Le Conflit: la femme et la mère" ("Conflict: The Woman and the Mother") which isn't even out in an English language version yet. I first heard about the book on the Bust blog, which reported that it's causing a major ruckus in France over her argument that women should be women first and mothers second. Women are pressured to be perfect moms, which increasingly means staying at home, breastfeeding, making your own baby food, and using washable diapers--things that many women aren't interested in and others don't have the luxury to even consider.

In a great article in the London Times, Badinter says, "It may seem derisory but powdered milk, jars of baby food, and disposable diapers were all stages in the liberation of women." As for moralizing about women who eat unpasteurized cheese and drink the occasional glass of wine while pregnant, she says, "You don't enter a religious order when you have children."

Over the weekend, the NY Times did a piece on Badinter. It's in the Style section, where the Times continues to publish all its journalism about women's professional lives. Oh my God that pisses me off. Anyway, in the article, she advocates for a more open-minded approach to motherhood, letting women raise their children they way they want without passing judgment. A mother of three, she says, "I'm a mediocre mother like the vast majority of women, because I'm human, I'm not a she-cat."

Environmentalists and some feminists don't like her argument, but I think I love her. I also agree that many women don't seem to want other women to make their own decisions about how to raise their kids. When I hear women my age (always women, never men) vehemently insisting that all mothers must breastfeed their babies and women who don't are bad and selfish, I can't help but think of social conservatives spouting off about gay people being sinful or America being a Christian nation. For some reason, many progressive thinkers have no problem telling women what they can and can't do with their kids or during pregnancy, but would never consider telling other people what kind of sexuality or religious beliefs to have.

Hopefully when Badinter's book comes out in translation, it will inspire more women to embrace a feminist approach to motherhood, i.e. do what you want, and let other people do what they want. Have kids, don't have kids. Breastfeed, bottle feed. It's up to you. Do you see fathers passionately condemning each other over disposable diapers?

Also, I love that Jezebel used a photo of Lucille Bluth, bad mom role model, in their post about Badinter.

categories: Books, Culture, Women
posted by amy at 1:44 PM | #

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